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Should You Trade Your Tampons for Menstrual Cups?

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You know this story all too well: Your period hits, you rummage through your purse, but despite your efforts—there’s no tampon in sight. Luckily for you, there is a feminine hygiene product that doesn’t require constant restocking. Enter: the Lily Cup Compact. (Check out 6 Facts You Don't Know About Your Vagina but Should.)

While menstrual cups aren’t exactly new, the Lily Cup Compact—which was funded through a Kickstarter campaign—has received a lot of attention thanks to its flexible design that folds up to look like a tiny, pink condom.

“A standard menstrual cup doesn’t collapse, so they typically run roughly 2 to 3 inches in length,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Reset Diet. The Lily Cup Compact, though, stays cleaner and free from debris in your purse because it collapses into a protective compact, she explains.

So how exactly does a menstrual cup work? The new Lily Cup follows the style of old favorites like the DivaCup or Lunette (minus the novel fold-up feature). Think of it as a washable, reusable substitute for tampons or pads. “Like a tampon, you have to insert it inside the vaginal canal, although the cup sits lower in the vagina than a tampon does,” Gottfried says. Before inserting, you fold the cup in half. Once positioned inside the vagina, it automatically unfolds, creating a seal against the vaginal walls to collect your menstrual flow, she explains. As for removal, there’s a stem at the bottom of the cup, which you grab and then pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, and slowly pull down. (See 10 Everyday Things That Can Affect Your Period.) 

Not sure if you’re ready to commit to the cup? Check out the pros and cons of trading in your tampons.

Pro: They’re Cost-Efficient
A menstrual cup typically runs between $25 and $40, so if you continue to use the cup, you end up saving money in the long run, says Gottfried. In fact, the makers of the Lily Cup Compact claim their product lasts for up to five years, which is long enough to take the place of 1,625 tampons. (Check out these 16 Money Rules Every Woman Should Know by Age 30.)

Con: They Require More Maintenance Than Tampons
Rather than removing the cup and inserting a new one, you have to empty it out and clean it with soap and water before reinserting. “Some women may have a bit of trouble getting over that hurdle, considering you have to deal directly with the mess,” says Gottfried. But cups usually only need to be emptied every 8 to 12 hours, so you don’t have to change it as much as you do a tampon, she explains.

Pro: They’re Body-Safe and Eco-Friendly
Menstrual cups are made out of medical-grade silicone. So not only are you eliminating waste in the environment by not throwing out tampons or pads, you’re allowing your vagina to function normally. “Tampons tend to interfere with the vagina’s self-cleaning properties because they absorb all vaginal moisture,” says Gottfried. (Didn't know that? Find out Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tampons (Plus Some Stuff You Didn't).) Menstrual cups on the other hand simply collect rather than absorb.

Con: Insertion and Removal Take More Practice to Master
Similar to a tampon, if the cup is inserted correctly, it shouldn't leak or cause any irritation. But you may need to rotate the cup once it’s inserted or flex your vaginal muscles to make sure the cup is fully open, explains Gottfried. As for removal, if you merely pull the stem and forget to pinch the base—you may create more suction and cause blood to spill, she warns.

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